Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Facebook Phenomenon and My Generation

Lately, I have had some seemingly quite surreal moments through that social networking site known as Facebook. Yes, I have a Facebook account and access it fairly regularly. I have actually been on Facebook for quite a while now and have seen it evolve somewhat. As it has evolved, I have noticed a phenomenon that is peculiar to my generation and our relationship to this social networking medium.

This is what I've come to discover ...

The young folks of today (and by young I mean the under 30 years old crowd) have grown up with Facebook and the other social networking sites like MySpace and LinkedIn. For this generation, their personal and social history is chronicled at the moment of its birth, archived instantaneously, and immediately accessible at any time. Both to themselves as well as to others. Their social relationships are woven together and preserved over long stretches of time, and all it takes is a click of the mouse to reconnect, to refresh memory, and to stay informed. Because of this, their past never fades into the obscure recesses of memory as it has for all previous generations. For instance, when I transitioned from elementary school to high school, and then from high school to college, the break between my social networks established through these transitions was pretty clean and pretty complete. It was expected to be that way. When we could, we maintained contact through handwritten letters delivered by regular post. But this method of keeping in touch was tedious and sporadic. Consequently old relationships faded quickly and, most of the time, fairly completely. And in most cases, at least in my life, memories of people were stuck in particular moments of time, in particular emotional and psychological environments, such that if and when contact would be reestablished years later (say at planned reunions), it was always a wonderful, and sometimes incredible, moment of readjusting past memories to very changed current realities. The skinny geek turned out to be the stocky gigolo. The homely girl with braces turned out to be the glamorous and beautiful stage peformer. The bully turned out to be a kind and gentle philanthropist. Etc. There was (is) a magical and almost surreal quality to this process of social relations. Now, for the younger generations, that magic is gone. There is much less mystery and wonder about who is doing what, when, and where. All you need to do is keep your Facebook account active and make sure to regularly check in on your Facebook friends. That's not to say that the mystery and wonder of social networking across different contexts and extended periods of time disappears, just that it is diminished overall. I doubt that my children will get the same kind of thrill out of reconnecting with "long lost" old friends and acquiantances. And that is because nothing these days about social networking lends itself to any friendship or acquaintance being "long lost," and thus subject to the thrills and, perhaps, anxieties of rediscovery.

However, my generation is distinct from older generations in that we are close enough to technology and the wonders that it can bring via social networking to not simply write it off as a novelty. For my parents' generation, too much time has passed, too much history has been buried, too little knowledge of and experience with technology exists, and too much effort would be required to resuscitate the "long lost" such that things like the Facebook phenomenon are merely curiosities and mostly meaningless.

So, what all this means, as far as I see it, is that my generation is caught in this unique and surreal space where, through things like Facebook, we can explode the wonder of times past and freshen memories of friendships and social relationships that aren't so far removed from our identities that we wouldn't find meaning in dredging them up and restoring them.

Even though online social networking sites have been around for some time now, my generation is just now catching on to the excitement of it. And we ARE excited by it in ways that the younger generations could never be, precisely because of its ability to restore the "long lost." Folks from my generation are setting up Facebook accounts by the droves. People I grew up with in the old neighborhood, folks I went to grammar school with, guys and girls that I hung out with in the heady days of adolescence and high school and undergraduate college, are all searching each other out and reconnecting. We are like giddy kids in the proverbial candy store.

And whenever one of these "long lost" friends reconnects with me through Facebook, the inevitable first thrill of the contact is almost always prefaced by something like the following: "Isn't this Facebook thing just crazy-cool?!?!?" And it is! It's a wonderful moment. Finding out about jobs, careers, families, interests. Seeing pictures of people 20-30 years after the last moment of contact. There is something sweet and innocent about finding out that your best friend from the 5th grade, whom you haven't seen in 25 years, still thinks of you, too, now, as that best friend from 5th grade -- even after so many years have passed.

Recently, after having discovered through Facebook the web of current, new relationships that have unexpected and surprising connections to relationships of 20-30 years ago, I wrote for my status update the following: "Jimmy Huck seems to have unwittingly taken the red pill and is now discovering how deep the rabbit hole goes!" (For those not in the know, this is a reference to a scene in the movie The Matrix, when Morpheus gives Neo the chance to know the surreal truth of the Matrix and his life as he knew it at that moment.) For folks in my generation, that rabbit hole is deep, indeed. But the surreal fall down into it is pretty thrilling and affirming. I can't speak for any other 40-somethings, but for me it is enlivening my personal history and enriching my present. I love it. And I have to say that I'm pretty darn pleased that the wonder of it is something I think only my generation gets to appreciate.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

HB521 - To the Governor

HB521 - a bill proposed by Representative Juan LaFonta of the Louisiana House of Representatives to create "an advisory council to propose ways to eliminate obstacles to the effective delivery of governmental services to Latin Americans" - has passed the House concurrence vote on the Senate's amended bill by a vote of 86 Ayes, 0 Nays, and 18 Absent. So, the original bill passed the House, moved to the Senate where it passed with Amendments, went back to the House for its concurrence with the Senate Amendments, where it was passed by a large margin.

What this means is that now the bill heads for Gov. Jindal's desk and will become law unless Gov. Jindal vetoes the bill, which is extremely unlikely to happen.

What a change from last summer. I couldn't be more pleased. Even though this advisory council really has no "teeth" to effect policy, it's symbolically important for the message it sends to the Latin American and Latino residents of the State of Louisiana.

Thanks to Rep. LaFonta for authoring the bill and for shepherding it successfully through the legislative process.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Experience LatiNola


Come out to Lakeside Mall on Saturday, June 13, and "Experience LatiNola." Click the link above for more information.

Update on HB521 - Creating a State Advisory Council for Latino Affairs

Some while ago, I wrote about a bill before the Louisiana Legislature sponsored by Rep. Juan LaFonta to create an Advisory Council charged with advising the state government on Latino/Latin American affairs.

This bill has been slowly working its way through the system and appears headed for final passage. Just today, the Senate easily passed its version of LaFonta's bill. However, the Senate added some amendments to the bill, so it now has to go back to the House for what is called a "concurrence" vote. This simply means that the House has to vote on whether it will accept the Senate's changes to the bill. The vote on House concurrence is scheduled to take place on June 9. I can't see any reason for it not to pass the House, where it was previously approved almost unanimously.

After that, it goes to the Governor's desk for signature, which is also pretty much a given, as I have been led to believe.

So, in a few days, it looks like we will have an Advisory Council "to propose ways to eliminate obstacles to the effective delivery of governmental services to Latin Americans." If you want to read the full bill and all the approved amendments, you can search the bill on the State Legislature website. Again, I should remark that this is quite a reversal of sentiment from last year, when the mood was to attack the undocumented migrant Latino community and those who would serve them, to one where now the state is establishing an official Advisory Council to see how government can best serve this community itself! Quite a good turn of events, if you ask me!

The Archbishop of New Orleans Does It Again

That is ... pulls another cynical, boneheaded stunt regarding church closings and such.

Only this time, it's even more cynical a stunt, if you ask me. Seems the Archdiocese wants to divert FEMA resources (some $10 million) specifically allocated for the reconstruction of damaged parish schools and church community centers in poor, predominantly black communities in urban New Orleans to relatively wealthy, white suburban churches in St. Bernard Parish and on the Northshore.

Yeah ... that's the symbolic message the Archdiocese needs to send to poorer communities who could use the resources reinvested in their neighborhoods: take the taxpayers money away from poor communities, who are already spiritually damaged and hurting by the Archdiocese's decision to shut down their parishes, and then reinvest this public money in places where the Church can profit more from expanding services to the white monied Catholics in places where everyone knows racism and disdain for anything urban thrives. (And anyone who dares to say that St. Bernard Parish and the Northshore aren't places where the legacy of Jim Crow is more alive than not is just being wilfully blind. EVERYONE knows that racism thrives in these places. It is no coincidence that David Duke's base of operations is located on the Northshore and that David Duke is popular figure in St. Bernard Parish. So the racial symbolism of this move by the Archdiocese, no matter how they try to spin it, will not be lost on folks who are watching with their eyes wide open.)

It's heartbreaking, really. It conveys the message that the Archdiocese doesn't give a rat's rear about poor folks, especially if they happen to be poor, black folks. It also invites protestant churches to step in, fill the void, and heal the hurt left in the wake of the Archdiocese's brazen insensitivity and dismissiveness of these communities. It's heartbreaking, but it also makes my blood boil.

It's no wonder that I've come to consider myself over the past few months to be an Exodus Catholic. I have said previously that I would not tithe to Parish churches anymore as long as this current leadership persists. And I have kept that promise. Now I have one more reason to cement my resolve in this way. If you are a Catholic who cares about New Orleans and its marginalized communities, I would ask you to make the same resolution. Give your money and time to individual communities, individual priests, or the religious orders. If your money and time go to the Archdiocese, you can rest assured that it will likely be re-diverted to causes anti-thetical to the social justice mission and teaching of the Church.

The Archbishop is not God. He is a fallible man. And this one, in particular, is full of mistakes and bad will. In my opinion, he abandoned his flock following Hurricane Katrina and holed himself up in Baton Rouge until he could feel comfortable returning. He destroyed parishes and shut down churches that were self-sustaining for reasons that are beyond the comprehension of any compassionate human being. He exercises political intervention by publicly snubbing (of all institutions) Xavier University, an historically black university, because it invited a prominent black Democratic strategist and pro-choice political figure, Donna Brazile, to be its commencement speaker; yet he NEVER questions the morality of politicians who unapologetically and proudly endorse torture, war, the death penalty, and a myriad list of other anti-life measures. And now he wants to take federal government money away from poor, black, progressive communities and use it for the benefit of predominantly white, conservative, suburban, and relatively wealthy communities. The man is pathologically tone deaf to Catholics on the margins who are starved for compassionate and understanding pastoral leadership. He is so wrapped up in his comfortable, conservative, privileged cocoon that he can't even recognize the damage he is doing to the Catholic community of New Orleans.